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Caution is urged on sale of pills to children

Teen attempts suicide on shop-bought drugs

By Gráinne Brinkley

A West Belfast mother has called for tighter regulations on the sale of paracetamol after her daughter twice attempted to take her own life by overdosing on the shop-bought painkiller that she purchased while wearing her school uniform.

The 17-year-old from the Colin area was hospitalised for four days after taking 32 of the pills, which her mother said were easily bought over-the-counter at a West Belfast chemist shop.

The local schoolgirl, who is receiving treatment for mental health as well as self-harm problems, had previously attempted to take her own life in September last year – again by purchasing the painkillers from a local retail outlet while in her school uniform.

“She took them last Friday night and went into work the next day,” said the girl’s distraught mother.

“She was sent home sick and it came out that she took the paracetamol. We then brought her into hospital.  You shouldn’t sell 32 paracetamol to a child in school uniform. She can’t go into a shop and buy a box of cigarettes in her uniform, or buy alcohol, but she can buy 32 paracetamol and spend four days in hospital with liver damage. I’m angry that can happen when suicide is such a big issue in West Belfast. The damage that paracetamol can do needs to be highlighted as well as the fact that it’s so easily accessible.”

There is at present no age limit on the sale of paracetamol. However, the legal limit for purchasing over-the-counter painkillers at a pharmacy is set at 32 tablets, with a limit of 16 tablets for non-pharmacy outlets. The recommended dosage for paracetamol is no more than eight tablets (4g) in a 24-hour period.

West Belfast MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, Sue Ramsey, called for greater responsibility among pharmacists and retail outlets in selling painkillers to young people.

“All of these shops need to be proactive around this problem and there is also an issue around the sale of aerosol cans and their misuse,” she said.

“Suicide is everybody’s business and people need to be aware of this.”

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